Is Jonathan a good soldier in "The Fighting Ground"?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an incredibly loaded question. It assumes that you know the qualities of a “good soldier” and then it assumes you can project those qualities onto the character of Jonathan from The Fighting Ground by Avi. Let us take a look at this character of Jonathan and then pluck out qualities that might be seen as “good soldier” and/or “bad soldier” qualities.

First, Jonathan does rush into the fight with gusto (even disobeying his mother in order to do so). As he encounters actual Hessians, Jonathan is confused by their attempts to communicate and establish trust with him. Jonathan is especially confused when these same Hessians help bury a child’s dead parents and say a prayer for them. At the beginning, Jonathan both admires and fears the Corporal above him; however, by the end, Jonathan realizes that it was the Corporal who killed the little boy’s parents. The worst crime Jonathan witnesses, then, is not committed by the “enemy,” but by his own superior. This causes Jonathan to question the nature of war.

Next, let’s consider some qualities of a good soldier: good training, ability to remain calm in a crisis, and ability to follow orders (in other words, complete submission to superiors). In this regard, I’m afraid that Jonathan fails in all of these. Jonathan is young and isn’t trained well with his weapon, nor does he have extensive experience in battle. As for remaining calm in a crisis, Jonathan panics for the poor boy when the dead parents are discovered and then panics once again when the Corporal proves to be the killer. Finally, perhaps Jonathan’s biggest failure as a “good soldier” is his question of authority and inability to follow orders. Jonathan tries to refuse when he is asked to lead the Corporal back to the Hessians. When forced to do so, Jonathan tries to warn “the enemy,” but they are unable to escape and are killed anyway. Instead of following orders without question, Jonathan questions again and again.

In conclusion, I have to say that (personally) I really like the humanity of the “bad soldier” of Jonathan in that there is no dehumanization of the Hessians. Jonathan recognizes goodness when he sees it, and is confused when his own superiors prove to do “bad things.” This shows that the idea of a “good soldier” is subjective in regards to who is doing the interpretation. For example, the US Army might have one opinion, and this eNotes Educator might have another. We can go even further with this and say that war between members of humanity is never completely clear good vs. evil no matter what the propaganda spouts. Jonathan now understands this, just like the readers of The Fighting Ground.

huntress eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Having read the book yourself, I assume you only need help understanding what a "good soldier" is. The problem with answering this question, and why this question is not as black and white as it seems, is that "good soldier" is a nebulous term. I'm myself career military and have read (and taught) a great deal of war literature, and while I'm not certain I can provide a clear answer, I'm happy to try, then you can be the judge of whether you believe Jonathan is a "good soldier." 

Good soldiers are well trained, to begin with. They know and have practiced the basics of how and when it is wise to fight, are masters of their weapons (so they can use them effectively without conscious thought), can stay cool under pressure, and can take care of their fellows. Good soldiers, in my opinion, value the units they fight with and the mission above their own safety, should it come to that choice (it comes with the territory). 

At the same time, it usually takes experience and seasoning to produce a good soldier. There are many things you cannot know about reality and (more importantly, yourself) until you and your unit are under fire. You may think yourself brave, well-trained, and self-sacrificing, but you don't know until the bullets start flying. Very few unseasoned soldiers are what I'd call "good soldiers" yet; that's something that usually comes with time in actual combat. (Admittedly, a precious few are born to it, though.)

Soldiers are taught and sworn to follow the lawful orders of those appointed over them, so part of whether Jonathan is "a good soldier" must be determined by this. 

In my opinion, as well, a good soldier never forgets the humanity of his enemy. The ultimate aim of war is eventual peace (paradoxical as that may seem), so a good soldier doesn't dehumanize his opponent in order to make killing easier. He kills only when necessary. This is what a colleague of mine (a retired colonel) dubbed "a reluctant killer." Reluctant killers take no joy in killing, but do it because they understand it is required and what is ultimately best for their country and their cause. 

I hope this provides enough food for thought to help you write an outstanding essay.